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advertise for godfathers and godmothers.


A thing which does not exist and which is very much wanted is "A
Working-Man's History of England."  I do not mean a history written for
working men (there are whole dustbins of them), I mean a history, written
by working men or from the working men's standpoint.  I wish five
generations of a fisher's or a miner's family could incarnate themselves
in one man and tell the story.

It is impossible to ignore altogether any comment coming from so eminent a
literary artist as Mr. Laurence Housman, but I do not deal here so
specially with his well known conviction about Votes for Women, as with
another idea which is, I think, rather at the back of it, if not with him
at least with others; and which concerns this matter of the true story of
England.  For the true story is so entirely different from the false
official story that the official classes tell that by this time the
working class itself has largely forgotten its own experience.  Either
story can be quite logically linked up with Female Suffrage, which,
therefore, I leave where it is for the moment; merely confessing that, so
long as we get hold of the right story and not the wrong story, it seems
to me a matter of secondary importance whether we link it up with Female
Suffrage or not.

Now the ordinary version of recent English history that most moderately
educated people have absorbed from childhood is something like this.  That
we emerged slowly from a semi-barbarism in which all the power and wealth
were in the hands of Kings and a few nobles; that the King's power was
broken first and then in due time that of the nobles, that this piece-meal
improvement was brought about by one class after another waking up to a
sense of citizenship and demanding a place in the national councils,
frequently by riot or violence; and that in consequence of such menacing
popular action, the franchise was granted to one class after another and
used more and more to improve the social conditions of those classes,
until we practically became a democracy, save for such exceptions as that
of the women.  I do not think anyone will deny that something like that is
the general idea of the educated man who reads a newspaper and of the
newspaper that he reads.  That is the view current at public schools and
colleges; it is part of the culture of all the classes that count for much
in government; and there is not one word of truth in it from beginning to

That Great Reform Bill

Wealth and political power were very much more popularly distributed in
the Middle Ages than they are now; but we will pass all that and consider
recent history.  The franchise has never been largely and liberally
granted in England; half the males have no vote and are not likely to get
one.  It was _never_ granted in reply to pressure from awakened sections
of the democracy; in every case there was a perfectly clear motive for
granting it solely for the convenience of the aristocrats.  The Great
Reform Bill was not passed in response to such riots as that which
destroyed a Castle; nor did the men who destroyed the Castle get any
advantage whatever out of the Great Reform Bill.  The Great Reform Bill
was passed in order to seal an alliance between the landed aristocrats and
the rich manufacturers of the north (an alliance that rules us still); and
the chief object of that alliance was to _prevent_ the English populace
getting any political power in the general excitement after the French
Revolution.  No one can read Macaulay's speech on the Chartists, for
instance, and not see that this is so.  Disraeli's further extension of
the suffrage was not effected by the intellectual vivacity and pure
republican theory of the mid-Victorian agricultural labourer; it was
effected by a politician who saw an opportunity to dish the Whigs, and
guessed that certain orthodoxies in the more prosperous artisan might yet
give him a balance against the commercial Radicals.  And while this very
thin game of wire-pulling with the mere abstraction of the vote was being
worked entirely by the oligarchs and entirely in their interests, the
solid and real thing that was going on was the steady despoiling of the
poor of all power or wealth, until they find themselves to-day upon the
threshold of slavery.  That is The Working Man's History of England.

Now, as I have said, I care comparatively little what is done with the
mere voting part of the matter, so long as it is not clone in such a way
as to allow the plutocrat to escape his responsibility for his crimes, by
pretending to be much more progressive, or much more susceptible to
popular protest, than he ever has been.  And there is this danger in many
of those who have answered me.  One of them, for instance, says that women
have been forced into their present industrial situations by the same iron
economic laws that have compelled men.  I say that men have not been
compelled by iron economic laws, but in the main by the coarse and
Christless cynicism of other men.  But, of course, this way of talking is
exactly in accordance with the fashionable and official version of English
history.  Thus, you will read that the monasteries, places where men of
the poorest origin could be powerful, grew corrupt and gradually decayed.
Or you will read that the mediaeval guilds of free workmen yielded at last
to an inevitable economic law.  You will read this; and you will be
reading lies.  They might as well say that Julius Caesar gradually
decayed at the foot of Pompey's statue.  You might as well say that
Abraham Lincoln yielded at last to an inevitable economic law.  The free
mediaeval guilds did not decay; they were murdered.  Solid men with solid
guns and halberds, armed with lawful warrants from living statesmen broke
up their corporations and took away their hard cash from themú In the same
way the people in Cradley Heath are no more victims of a necessary
economic law than the people in Putumayo.  They are victims of a very
terrible creature, of whose sins much has been said since the beginning of
the world; and of whom it was said of old, "Let us fall into the hands of
God, for His mercies are great; but let us not fall into the hands of Man."

The Capitalist Is in the Dock

Now it is this offering of a false economic excuse for the sweater that is
the danger in perpetually saying that the poor woman will use the vote and
that the poor man has not used it.  The poor man is prevented from using
it; prevented by the rich man, and the poor woman would be prevented in
exactly the same gross and stringent style.  I do not deny, of course,
that there is something in the English temperament, and in the heritage of
the last few centuries that makes the English workman more tolerant of
wrong than most foreign workmen would be.  But this only slightly modifies
the main fact of the moral responsibility.  To take an imperfect parallel,
if we said that negro slaves would have rebelled if negroes had been more
intelligent, we should be saying what is reasonable.  But if we were to
say that it could by any possibility be represented as being the negro's
fault that he was at that moment in America and not in Africa, we should
be saying what is frankly unreasonable.  It is every bit as unreasonable
to say the mere supineness of the English workmen has put them in the
capitalist slave-yard.  The capitalist has put them in the capitalist
slaveyard; and very cunning smiths have hammered the chains.  It is just
this creative criminality in the authors of the system that we must not
allow to be slurred over.  The capitalist is in the dock to-day; and so
far as I at least can prevent him, he shall not get out of it.


It will be long before the poison of the Party System is worked out of the
body politic.  Some of its most indirect effects are the most dangerous.
One that is very dangerous just now is this: that for most Englishmen the
Party System falsifies history, and especially the history of revolutions.
It falsifies history because it simplifies history.  It paints everything
either Blue or Buff in the style of its own silly circus politics: while a
real revolution has as many colours as the sunrise--or the end of the
world.  And if we do not get rid of this error we shall make very bad
blunders about the real revolution which seems to grow more and more
probable, especially among the Irish.  And any human familiarity with
history will teach a man this first of all: that Party practically does
not exist in a real revolution.  It is a game for quiet times.

If you take a boy who has been to one of those big private schools which
are falsely called the Public Schools, and another boy who has been to one
of those large public schools which are falsely called the Board Schools,
you will find some differences between the two, chiefly a difference in
the management of the voice.  But you will find they are both English in a
special way, and that their education has been essentially the same.  They
are ignorant on the same subjects.  They have never heard of the same
plain facts.  They have been taught the wrong answer to the same confusing
question.  There is one fundamental element in the attitude of the Eton
master talking about "playing the game," and the elementary teacher
training gutter-snipes to sing, "What is the Meaning of Empire Day?"  And
the name of that element is "unhistoric."  It knows nothing really about
England, still less about Ireland or France, and, least of all, of course,
about anything like the French Revolution.

Revolution by Snap Division

Now what general notion does the ordinary English boy, thus taught to
utter one ignorance in one of two accents, get and keep through life about
the French Revolution?  It is the notion of the English House of Commons
with an enormous Radical majority on one side of the table and a small
Tory minority on the other; the majority voting solid for a Republic, the
minority voting solid for a Monarchy; two teams tramping through two
lobbies with no difference between their methods and ours, except that
(owing to some habit peculiar to Gaul) the brief intervals were brightened
by a riot or a massacre, instead of by a whisky and soda and a Marconi tip.
Novels are much more reliable than histories in such matters.  For
though an English novel about France does not tell the truth about France,
it does tell the truth about England; and more than half the histories
never tell the truth about anything.  And popular fiction, I think, bears
witness to the general English impression.  The French Revolution is a
snap division with an unusual turnover of votes.  On the one side stand a
king and queen who are good but weak, surrounded by nobles with rapiers
drawn; some of whom are good, many of whom are wicked, all of whom are
good-looking.  Against these there is a formless mob of human beings,
wearing red caps and seemingly insane, who all blindly follow ruffians who
are also rhetoricians; some of whom die repentant and others unrepentant
towards the end of the fourth act.  The leaders of this boiling mass of
all men melted into one are called Mirabeau, Robespierre, Danton, Marat,
and so on.  And it is conceded that their united frenzy may have been
forced on them by the evils of the old regime.

That, I think, is the commonest English view of the French Revolution; and
it will not survive the reading of two pages of any real speech or letter
of the period.  These human beings were human; varied, complex and
inconsistent.  But the rich Englishman, ignorant of revolutions, would
hardly believe you if you told him some of the common human subtleties of
the case.  Tell him that Robespierre threw the red cap in the dirt in
disgust, while the king had worn it with a broad grin, so to speak; tell
him that Danton, the fierce founder of the Republic of the Terror, said
quite sincerely to a noble, "I am more monarchist than you;" tell him that
the Terror really seems to have been brought to an end chiefly by the
efforts of people who particularly wanted to go on with it--and he will
not believe these things.  He will not believe them because he has no
humility, and therefore no realism.  He has never been inside himself; and
so could never be inside another man.  The truth is that in the French
affair everybody occupied an individual position.  Every man talked
sincerely, if not because he was sincere, then because he was angry.
Robespierre talked even more about God than about the Republic because he
cared even more about God than about the Republic.  Danton talked even
more about France than about the Republic because he cared even more about
France than about the Republic.  Marat talked more about Humanity than
either, because that physician (though himself somewhat needing a
physician) really cared about it.  The nobles were divided, each man from
the next.  The attitude of the king was quite different from the attitude
of the queen; certainly much more different than any differences between
our Liberals and Tories for the last twenty years.  And it will sadden
_some_ of my friends to remember that it was the king who was the Liberal
and the queen who was the Tory.  There were not two people, I think, in
that most practical crisis who stood in precisely the same attitude
towards the situation.  And that is why, between them, they saved Europe.
It is when you really perceive the unity of mankind that you really
perceive its variety.  It is not a flippancy, it is a very sacred truth,
to say that when men really understand that they are brothers they
instantly begin to fight.

The Revival of Reality

Now these things are repeating themselves with an enormous reality in the
Irish Revolution.  You will not be able to make a Party System out of the
matter.  Everybody is in revolt; therefore everybody is telling the truth.
The Nationalists will go on caring most for the nation, as Danton and
the defenders of the frontier went on caring most for the nation.  The
priests will go on caring most for religion, as Robespierre went on caring
most for religgion.  The Socialists will go on caring most for the cure of
physical suffering, as Marat went on caring most for it.  It is out of
these real differences that real things can be made, such as the modern
French democracy.  For by such tenacity everyone sees at last that there
is something in the other person's position.  And those drilled in party
discipline see nothing either past or present.  And where there is nothing
there is Satan.

For a long time past in our politics there has not only been no real
battle, but no real bargain.  No two men have bargained as Gladstone and
Parnell bargained--each knowing the other to be a power.  But in real
revolutions men discover that no one man can really agree with another man
until he has disagreed with him.


There is a certain daily paper in England towards which I feel very much
as Tom Pinch felt towards Mr. Pecksniff immediately after he had found him

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